Mass. FAST LANE Tom Foolery

The bureaucracy and rules behind the Massachusetts FAST LANE could well be termed the HACK LANE. That’s because it punishes good customers (me!) and then makes them jump through hoops to get the fines reversed.

Granted, the FAST LANE is a huge convenience. I whiz through the Hampton, N.H. tolls at 60 miles per hour (yes, the Live Free of Die state charges two dollars for use of about a dozen miles of  I-95). It beats the numb glare of the toll taker, but this is also an altogether too easy way for taxing authorities to take money our of your pocket.

Here’s my beef: I neglected to update the expiration date of my credit card so I went over my balance. FAST LANE outrageously charges a fine of $50 every time you go through a toll and have no credit balance.

That’s because rather than giving you the option to charge your credit card for every toll, FAST LANE takes $45 and then draws down the tolls. So my wife goes through the Hampton tolls today and the orange light goes and says “call service center.”

We had no balance left and FAST LANE could not charge my card $45 to refresh my credit balance. By the way, take those orange lights seriously and don’t wait to call the service or check your account online.

I thought I had updated the credit card expiration date earlier this week before we went over our credit balance. It didn’t take, apparently, because I did not re-enter the card number, too.

I did it correctly this morning about 10 minutes after my wife went through the toll that zapped our credit balance. The service center rep said we will probably get fined, but it did not show up on her computer because there’s a two day lag time for the recording of violations.

She added that I will probably get a letter about the fine and an appeal form to possibly overturn it. The process, she said, takes 30 to 60 or 90 days to process. When pressed, she said I would probably be forgiven, but will be charged $5 for processing.

I’m thinking this is a lousy way to treat a good and regular customer. If Amazon or even Verizon treated customers this way, they would not survive. It’s the heavy-handedness and arrogant behavior of bureaucrats who seem to report to no one. Maybe, I should give back back my transponders and get back in the lines.

While I was online, I checked my annual FAST LANE balance – it’s quadrupled in the past four years mostly from toll increase. The former Mass. Turnpike Authority, which was folded in the Mass. DOT last year, was a cesspool of patronage and mismanagement. It was always broke, too.

Follow me on Twitter and not in the FAST LANE.

6 comments On Mass. FAST LANE Tom Foolery

  • Mike from Boston

    I don’t like tolls in general or bureaucracies either and it does sound like you they are making you go through a lot of hassle. With that said, you refer to yourself as a “good” customer, but a good customer would keep an unexpired credit card on the account at all times, especially when they are using the tolls. Sure, it was a small oversight and I hope they forgive most of your fine – if and only if it is your first offense. Sure, it’s lousy but there are people who go through with fake/invalid credit cards and the state may never get their money.

  • Good points all and I figured someone would tell me to get a life concerning this point given there are more pressing problems in the world. I did update the card expiration date in time, but it did not take because I didn’t input the card number. We’ll see what happens….

  • @Mike from Boston
    I don’t care how you slice it, Mike. Charging $50 every time one goes through a toll with an expired card is the very definition of extortion. This makes the TP Authority as bad or worse than the credit card companies we all complain about. If they want to penalize drivers, then charge the max toll for that trip, not $50 per incident.

  • Pingback: The Dodge Retort » Turning in my FAST LANE transponders ()

  • barry from boston

    i agree with you, but if you think you were treated badly this is how they treat their very best customers – taxi drivers – . i spend about $12,500,00 per yearononei fast lane charges, if i were in business and a customer spent that much i would treat them very well. but this is a government agency and they treat me just the opposite. first they require that i have a transponder and that i use it. the initial cost to me was $30.00 plus a $75.00 deposit., then i had to put a $200 deposit with the cab company to guarantee payment if i went through with no funds. they deducted charges from my account when i used it but when the balance went below 75.00 they took out more money from a credit card or checking account, which ever way you set it up, which means they have $75.00 of my money forever. the bad part is that they take out a large amount every time , about $300 to $400 , they base it on the amount of money you spend ,but i dont know exactly how they come up with that amount. how quickly do you think my credit card or checking account can be overdrawn .another problem is that as a boston taxi i am charged $5.25 .each time i use the tunnels from the airport, but private cars are charged $3.50,and there are discounts for some people if you live in east boston. . they say i am a commercial vehicle so i should be charged more, i say i am your very best customer and i should be charged less., only government could do this and still be in business. what else they do that is hard to believe is they make us use the pass . TAXIS CANNOT PAY CASH FOR THE TOLLS, IT IS ILLEGAL AND IF YOU DO IT IS A $ 50.00 FINE. THE STATE POLICE ACTUALLY STAY BY THE TOLL BOOTHS AND PULL OVER TAXIS WHO PAY CASH, they dont do this all the time but you never know when they will be there so it risky to try it. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW OF ANY P[LACE OR AGENCY ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD THAT WOULD FINE SOMEONE IF THEY PAID FOR SOMETHING IN CASH. my theory is that it was an easy way to stop the toll takers – their employees, from stealing, which they did, by pocketting the difference between cars and taxis a few years ago, it was easy if w, i will comment on e cant pay cash they cant steal. i have much more to say about this agency but for now i have run out of time i will comment later

  • Barry, I could not agree more. Cab drivers treated terribly by the authorities….especially the Hackney division in the BPD or whatever it is now. How do I know? I drove a cab in Boston from 1972-76. The thugs at the Logan taxi pool were the worst….word was they took bribes for good jobs. I never paid. This was long before the transponder – the tunnel and bridge toll was a quarter.

    I was very involved with the union drive against Town Taxi….then I drove for ITOA for several years. All cash deal, no benefits. But I once felt your pain. Thing was I knew I would not be cab driver forever. I went back to school in 1976 and became a journalist….I wish you all the best…

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